BY SLIPPING on their trainers, pinning a photograph to their chest and hitting the towpath, hundreds of walkers treasured the memory of their loved ones as they helped raise money for Farleigh Hospice.
The 20th annual Walk For Life attracted 1,300 people, young and old, despite the damp conditions under foot on Sunday, which had left the first half of the longer 22km route from Heybridge out of bounds.
Instead, they stuck to the shorter 10.5km trek from Paper Mill Lock, to the finishing point in Chelmsford, where they still crossed the finish line with smiles on their faces and photos pinned to their chests of friends and relatives who spent their last days with Farleigh.
Among those who had the "unbelievable work" of Farleigh fresh on their mind was Rachael Bickmore, who was walking in memory of her grandfather Basil Munden, who lost his battle with cancer at the age of 85 in March and her uncle Paul Munden, who died of the disease at the age of just 59 in February.
Mrs Bickmore, 24, of Coggeshall Road, Braintree, said her grandfather was cared for at home in his final two months thanks to Farleigh, while her uncle spent around six weeks at the Chelmsford hospice.
"They were just amazing," she said. "The things they do for anyone who has got any kind of disease is incredible – that's why we are here.
"I take my hat off to all of them. My grandfather always had a good word to say about them."
Mrs Bickmore was wearing the flat cap of her grandfather as she crossed the finish with her husband Graham Bickmore, whose grandfather Eric Bickmore of Chelmsford, was cared for by the hospice just a few years ago.
Behind them was Mrs Bickmore's mother Sandra Cockett and her partner Robin Acres.
Mr Bickmore, 25, said: "They just provide comfort at the hospice. "They are so comfortable, have everything they need and take a lot of weight off the family. My grandfather said they were so good."
The brother and nephew of another cancer victim Robert Dade were pounding the towpath for the 13th time, raising thousands of pounds through the years.
The 47-year-old from Braintree died in the old hospice building in New London Road after the cancer spread from his kidney.
His brother Trevor Dade, 59, of Roding Close in Fyfield, said: "He went to the hospice day centre in Braintree and as he deteriorated he went into the old hospice in Chelmsford. "It provided huge support for him and that is why we do it. They provided all kinds of support for him and also the family."
Robert's nephew Andrew Dade of Brook Street, Brentwood added: "Everyone does their little thing for charity and this just happens to be the day we put aside for Farleigh because they do such a good job."
Among the other fundraisers with stories to tell were friends Jessica Clark, 24, and Lauren Nowlan, 23, of Chelmsford, who have both been touched by the work of the Farleigh staff.
Lauren said: "I had a family friend who was taken care of by the hospice and so was my cousin's mother-in-law.
"They all seem really positive at the hospice. Some places you go in and it seems a bit low, but they are really well cared for."
Jessica added: "I used to work for someone who died of cancer and they did get cared for by the hospice. I think the work they do is so important."
The date of May 13 was a particularly poignant one for John Carslake, who had with him the memory of his late sister Phillipa Carslake, who would have been celebrating her birthday on that day. She died from pneumonia 20 years ago, age 25, in Chelmsford's Broomfield Hospital.
The 43-year-old of Stock said: "During the walk I thought about her quite a bit. She was a lovely person. You know brothers and sisters argue and sometimes don't like each other. Well, we were really close.
"She would have enjoyed this," he added.
Head of fundraising at Farleigh Gary Hawkes thanked all the walkers who had come out yet again, despite the damp conditions under foot, which had left part of the long route waterlogged and unsafe.